"My Dear Krauts" Excerpt Wet Heroes

Part 2


I walked over to my father and brushed some of the snow from his shoulders.

"You’re wearing your bomber command tie again," I noted, "you know you’re not entitled to do that."

"Shut up," he hissed. "Why don’t you wait downstairs."

I was happy to be alone for a while. The need to find a suitable bride was taking its emotional toll. Rarely had I felt so tired. In theory at least I should have been bursting with energy. Following a long dry period after Becky, I was grappling with a choice between two attractive women.

Claudia’s jealousy about Renata had taken me by surprise. It seemed such a strange relationship with Claudia, on and off, full of promise and of promise-denied, platonic and physical.

Tony told me, drawing on the long annals of his experience, that this was a normal German relationship.

"German women spend 80 percent of their time in concealment,” he confided over a well-earned post-marathon beer. “They are the Viet Cong of our days. They march by night, hide by day, staging occasional ambushes.”

I thought about this extravagant metaphor for a while.

“So, the answer is to napalm them?” I concluded.

Tony nodded vigorously. “Or marry them.”

Claudia had calmed down a little. I had, in my masculine way, played down the episode with Renata. And, after all, I had just run a marathon to please Claudia. It was a physical investment in a physical relationship. Not a very honest one, perhaps, but it was at least based on mutual attraction and good will.

We decided to take a short sabbatical from the relationship, let it rest – marinate would be a better word since I had been drinking more systematically since the end of my marathon training – until after I had steered my father through his wartime reunion.

Then we would talk sensibly and seriously.

Yet the kiss with Renata had created a bond, greater than that of the near-kiss with Claudia. Renata, full of self-doubt but intellectually alert: I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Not least because she was constantly sending me text messages. They had a lightly teasing tone, not exactly flirtations but demanding attention. She was hungry, it seemed, for conversation even if it was in the crude form of an SMS.

Where it was all going to lead I couldn’t tell but there was a clear difference in style between the two women.

Claudia was a woman who favoured the staccato: off-on, on-off. It was like decoding a Morse Code message.

Renata flowed; the kiss, I understood, was part of a rolling process. She was an intellectual, in a German feuilleton-reading way, but one capable, even eager, to switch off her brain.

What to do?

Choosing one or the other would be a statement about me. Or about my financial status. Time was running out. And how long could my father operate as an independent being? I would have to watch him carefully.

The lobby was beginning to fill up with veterans, already rehearsing their stories. In their own country, they were technically heroes but, in fact, regarded as something of a bore. Or even an embarrassment. Here, they could reconstruct their youth without someone shouting: Shut up you old windbag!

“You must be Bob’s son,” said a man with Parachute Regiment wings pinned to his lapels.

“That’s me,” I strained to look over his shoulder. His breath smelled of sour milk.

“He was blond just like you, curly hair, we called him Angel Face.”

“How did you know him? I mean you were jumping out of planes weren’t you? And he was dropping bombs.”

“Met on leave, summer 1942. Shared the same girlfriend for a while.”

The old paratrooper started to cough until he was red in the face. His nose and cheeks were full of broken veins. One eye seemed to point leftwards.

“Not my mother, I hope.”

“Course not. Great little woman.”

“She died a while back.”

“Sorry to hear it. Elspeth, her name wasn’t it?”

“Eileen.”

“Ah, yes.” The paratrooper turned abruptly to go, pushed through the blazers and baggy flannel trousers, towards the toilets.

Dad and Tom arrived. I ignored Tom.

“Who is that parachute chap, Dad, he seems to know you well?”

Dad stared at the man waddling past the reception. “Never seen him before in my life.”

“He didn’t have an affair with Mum, did he?”

“I’ve told you a hundred times, Mum did not like sex. Now stop talking dirty and count everybody.”

The veterans were all present and, more or less, alive. No heart attacks yet, no one stuck in the lavatory. Buzzing like debutantes at a ball they crowded into the bus, the old pilots sitting towards the front, the gunners at the back, the navigators took window seats.

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